THE GOLDLIST METHOD: Learning vocabulary has never been easier!

Are you sick of the standard school method of memorizing vocabulary as well as feeling that this method only makes you remember new words for a day at most? Are you looking for a new, more interesting and effective way to do it? If you’ve answered “Yes”, you’re in the right place!

In this article, you’ll learn about a revolutionary method which will help you learn lots of new phrases without straight up memorizing them and the best part is, you won’t even realize you’re learning. So, what is this magical method I’m talking about?

The Goldlist Method – easy and unbelievably effective at the same time

The author of this method is David James, known within the polyglot community as “Uncle Davey”. Ever since he unleashed this magical method into the world, it’s found thousands of fans who swear by it. And the only thing you need in order to take full advantage of goldlisting is a lined notebook and a few colored pens.

Lydia Machová and David James present the Goldlist method
Lýdia Machová and David James present the Goldlist method

The whole thing works like this: you write down lists of vocabulary items you want to learn into the notebook, and after a minimum of two weeks’ time, you’ll write them down again, but this time, you’ll leave out everything your brain has already memorized. You’ll discover that you have learned about 30% of the vocabulary items in each list, as if by magic, and all that without even doing any real learning at all!

The Goldlist method is great for everyone! Goldlisting works for eternal beginners and people who just can’t get ahead in learning a foreign language. Even language enthusiasts and professional polyglots can make use of it. Most people are truly amazed by the Goldlist method, because it is easy, playful, natural, and it will only cost you one notebook. Plus, the feeling you get when you realize that goldlisting really works is priceless.

How does it work in practice?

Before you start goldlisting, you need to prepare a lined notebook and a pen. Goldlists can be made in size A4 notebooks or A5 ones, if you choose to work with fewer words. It’s entirely up to you.

Where can I find a good source of vocabulary?

Find phrases for your goldlist in magazines for example

Now that you’ve got yourself a nice notebook, you only need to supply the vocabulary you’ll be learning. So, where should you look? You can reuse school materials that have started gathering dust by now. Or you can use TV series, foreign language books, blog posts, magazines or podcasts, as well as YouTube videos. Foreign language expressions can basically be taken from any foreign language source we come across.

As soon as you encounter an unfamiliar expression, write it down on a piece of paper. By doing so, your Goldlist vocabulary will slowly grow.

It is crucial, however, to only write down expressions consisting of a few words or even a short sentence. Steer clear of single words or expressions with infinitive verbs. If you learn an unknown word directly in context, you’ll have a much easier time using it in conversation. Ideally, the expressions you write down should consist of 2–4 words, only one of which is new to you. This way, you will not only learn a new word, but you’ll also remember how to use it in your foreign language. Here are a few examples from German and Italian Goldlists:

  • Through overconsuming – durch übermäßigen Verzehr
  • We were made for each other – Siamo fatti l’uno per l’altra
  • I faced difficult situations – Ho affrontato situazioni difficili

Let’s get goldisting!

When everything is ready, you can get right into your first Goldlist. Open your notebook on the first double page, make a note of the date and start writing down two columns of previously collected expressions into the top left-hand corner. One column will have the expressions in your mother tongue and the other will be in a foreign language.

If you chose an A4 notebook, write down a list of 20 expressions (using twenty lines). If you want to create a shorter Goldlist in a smaller notebook, write down only 14 expressions. When your list is ready, read through the expressions once, slowly and aloud, and then close the notebook.

Goldlist distillations

In two weeks’ time, you’ll return to your first Goldlist to test just how many expressions have stayed in your long-term memory. This is called the first distillation.

Cover up the list of foreign-language expressions and try to translate as many of them as possible from English (or a different language if English isn’t your mother tongue). Always test your memory by translating from your mother tongue into the foreign language. If you did everything right, you should remember around 30% of the expressions (or 6 out of 20). Now, proceed to rewrite the remaining 14 into the top right part of the same double-page. Then, read them aloud again and close the notebook. Don’t forget to put down the new date, so as to know when the next two weeks are up.

 The first distillation happens 2 weeks after writing the first list.

After the next two weeks, it’s time for a second distillation. Cover up the 14 foreign expressions and test your ability to translate as many of them as you can. Again, you should know about 30% of the expressions and rewrite the remaining 70% into the bottom right part of the double page (10 expressions).

By now, I’m sure you know what happens next. Correct! Two weeks later, you’ll do the third and the last distillation, during which you will rewrite 7 remaining expressions into the bottom left part. If you’re doing shorter lists, the number of expressions from the first list to the last distillation will be 14, 10, 7, and 5.

The 3rd distillation of the Goldlist

This doesn’t mean you’ll be doing nothing on all those days in between. One Goldlist wouldn’t get you very far and you wouldn’t learn much vocabulary either. You can easily make a new Goldlist with 20 new expressions (or 14 in a smaller notebook) every day. However, keep in mind that you can start the distillation of a given list no sooner than in two weeks’ time. That’s the only rule you need to follow. If you didn’t follow it and did your distillations earlier, you might still be able to dig the expressions out of your short-term memory and consequently, they would never make it into your long-term memory.

Once the words are in your long-term memory, you don’t need to do anything with them anymore. Just keep on doing your distillations, so that your lists get shorter and shorter (and you remember more and more).

Why does Goldlist not work for me?

Goldlist doesn’t always work 100%, but that’s no reason to give up! Sometimes, you might need a few days to get going and to make the whole process automatic. You might need to try out what works for you and what doesn’t. Even if this method has been effective for several lists of expressions, you might still find the odd one occasionally from which you’ve been able to remember only about 10–20%. And that’s totally fine.

If you’re among those who did not get close to the 30% of remembered expressions from the first few lists, you might be making one of the following mistakes:

  1. You’re not sticking to the rule of two weeks – maybe you were impatient or just worried that you wouldn’t remember 30% of the expressions, so you took a little peek into the list before two weeks had passed. By doing so, you allowed your short-term memory to participate in the process or remembering the expressions, and therefore, your long-term memory did not bring the results you were hoping for. If you want to see true miracles, you have to completely stay away from the list for at least two weeks.
  2. Memorizing words – if you try to consciously memorize new vocabulary that you put on the list, you’ll also keep using your short-term memory and not allowing your long-term memory to do the job for you.
  3. Absent-minded writing – when you’re writing down new expressions and doing the distillations, you need to fully concentrate on what you’re doing and give yourself enough time. You need to be aware of what you’re writing and really pay attention to it.
  4. Using unattractive materials – sources of your new vocabulary must be interesting, fun, and relevant. You should be able to use the expressions you’ve written down when talking to foreigners or your colleagues at work. If you put down words you’ll never use, your brain won’t even have a reason to remember them.
  5. Spending too much time with making and distilling vocabulary lists – even goldlisting can be exhausting for you as well as for your memory, which is why it’s generally a good idea to take short breaks, so that your long-term memory has a chance to rest and recharge.

What do experienced Goldlisters think about this method?

“When I began goldlisting, my English level was somewhere between A2 and B1, and I often struggled with understanding even basic Facebook posts. Nowadays, I can read English books without a problem. I’m 43 already, so my concentration and memory aren’t what they used to be, but even I managed it!” – Ivana Hofbauerová Veselá

“I started goldlisting on January 15th, 2018 and since then, I’ve had more intensive periods as well as longer breaks. I have 55 headlists, so that makes today’s total 1100 phrases. And I have to say that I owe most of my Italian to Goldlist – I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, use iTalki, but most of the stuff I actually remember is all thanks to Goldlist.”  – Mati Svobodová

“Goldlist is a truly fascinating method. The thing that surprised me the most was returning to Goldlist today after exactly one year. I thought I wouldn’t remember anything, but as if by magic, the 30/70 rule still worked! And I hadn’t even touched the notebook for a whole year! Not only did Goldlist help me with better passive understanding, but thanks to it, I can often think of the right phrase to use in conversation when I need it most.” – Hana Jokelová

I’ll never memorize vocabulary again!

Has the Goldlist method caught your attention and you’d like to know more? In that case, we’ve got some good news. Our 39-page-long e-book describes the ins and outs of Goldlist in detail. You’ll find out how it works in practice, learn how to proceed day by day, how to test yourself, why goldlisting sometimes doesn’t work and what to do about it, plus many more tips and tricks for advanced Goldlisters. And the best thing of all, downloading this e-book is completely free!

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Have a nice time goldlisting!

Download the goldlist e-book for free blog

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Lýdia Machová

Language mentor
I have learned 9 languages by myself, and I usually add a new one every two years. As a language mentor I've helped thousands of people to learn languages by themselves, in ways different from traditional classroom methods, and with much better and faster results. I'm a TED and TEDx speaker and a former organizer of the Polyglot Gathering, one of the biggest world events for polyglots.
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